I remember I wrote my first poem at the age of seven. It was "Ek je chilo Bador, Se kheto sudhu Gajor" ("Once there was a monkey, who ate only carrots"). My parents had a hearty laugh on it. My father then told me that Gurudev's first poem was "Jol Pore, Pata Nore" ("It rains, the leaves tremble"). Perhaps the most powerful line I had heard till then. Time passed, and I left my futile chase after poetry and concentrated more on the f-letter word, don't take it otherwise, it's "football." Perhaps every Bengali has a sleeping Maradona or Pelé inside him. But Gurudev remained with me. Inside my little head. He was everywhere. In the faded morning hours, the tiring afternoons and the restless evenings. He was everywhere. In my love, longing and loathing. I remember my lazy mornings were mostly occupied by the resonating voice of Debabrata Biswas. Our old gramophone would be playing, my father sitting beside it, his eyes closed. I must admit that I couldn't decipher the meaning of all those songs at that age, but the tunes struck a chord. They hummed inside my soul, vibrating on its hollowness.
As days passed by and I ripened, the man inside my head took a firmer grip. I listened to his unsaid words. His poems helped me sail through my sufferings. But this remained a secret affair. Since I was neither educated at Shantiniketan nor at Visva- Bharati, I always kept a low profile when it came to Gurudev. I must admit my failure in keeping a long beard and unkempt hair, roaming in Nandan, attending theatres at the academy or applying for a course at arts college. I open-heartedly admit my ineligibility for the above creative and fertile grounds. My friends with their prized collection of girlfriends from Shantiniketan also openly cautioned me not to try experimenting with Gurudev's works. It was a highly sensitive issue.
Some more days passed. I was struggling with my mind into the barrel-field of mechanical engineering. But our world famous "Bangla" at times soothed my soul. I was amazed to know that geniuses of the stature of Ritwik Ghatak, Sakti Chattopadhyay and even our very own Sunil Ganguly also maintained such "high" habits. I was extremely proud that at least my "Bangla" love somewhat followed theirs. It really gives you a wonderful feeling to know that your habits match those of legends. It swept me off my feet, and I devoted my evenings and nights to the attention of precious "Bangla." On one such lovely crimson evening, while I was happily gulping my beloved liquor at Anup Da's Thek (or "Adda" you can say), I met Gurudev again. I was sitting on the mud floor with a farmer, a rickshaw puller and a local matador driver. The topics were taking an interesting turn. I, being the most educated of the lot, was made to judge who was the richest among them. It was a tough choice, and being inhibited already by a few glasses, I was having a tough time deciding. Still, it was all going on smoothly, till the farmer suddenly started crying. He gulped two quick pegs and stated that he had had a son near about my age who was no more. Painfully, it all turned sombre. The old man kept on crying with the pain that he couldn't save his son. And then the man inside my head appeared again. I, with the "Bangla" reserve inside my belly, was amazed to hear the old man singing with his harsh voice: "Je raate mor duwar guli bhanglo jhore ...." And then the pain melted in those cheap glass containers. I closed my eyes and felt united with the old man's song.
A few more years passed. I was in London working for an insurance company. It was perhaps raining that day. You know, the Queen's land is always cloudy and rainy. That day, as I watched those raindrops sliding on our window, I remembered him again. "Pagla Hawa, Badol Dine ..." echoed inside my heart. Looking down through the window, I imagined my nephew's paper boat trembling and stirring in the monsoon. Somewhere deep inside, in the hearts of my heart, an unsung pain kept craving. The moth-eaten meaninglessness tore me apart as suddenly the outside became discoloured with irrelevant marks, smudges and gaps. The man, as I told you, was always there. Inside my now-grown head.
Such was the pain that I tried to pour it down on a crumbled piece of paper. As the words started flowing, I felt relieved. And relaxed. I thanked him and continued. But then all went futile. A few days later, as I was flipping through the pages of the Macmillan pocket edition of Tagore's Gitanjali, I saw the same sense. The same feelings. And a thousand times better than mine. It filled me with loathing. I kept on writing a few more lines, and then I surrendered. I could find nothing new in my words. All had been previously said by that bearded man, in a much better and more splendid way. I hated him for it. For having known all my feelings and for turning me into a puzzled half-creative human and then mocking me again and again, I hated him more. It was perhaps in the month of May, when Hyde Park still waited to be lush green.
Autumn was there. While I was still fighting. The decision to come back permanently to Kolkata was unsettling me. Then, on one such gloomy night when the great Bay Area happened to look not so great, I heard that man inside my heard again. I was looking at the Golden Gate and comparing it to our very own Howrah Bridge. My friends who were still in the United States termed my decision "utter foolishness." Those who were in the Queen's land said, "Preposterous." And those who never had set foot abroad asked, "So you want to do something here?" I asked their true meaning, and they said "Like opening up an NGO, helping people ... blah ... blah ... and blah." They were surprised when I said, "No. I am back for myself, for my love, of my city." And again I heard the term "utter foolishness" in hushed whispers.
I must admit, I struggled initially. It was hard. My bank balance decreased exponentially. I pondered if my friends in both the U.S. and the U.K. were right. I pondered more. And then, flushing all such thoughts in the KMC drain, I switched on the old gramophone. It was still alive, it still brought back those old memories. I smiled. I was relieved. And the man inside my head was again back. I walked along my favourite road in Kolkata. Beside the race course. I hummed Gurudev. The crimson evening was slowly getting dark. I looked up and saw birds returning home. I closed my eyes and said to the man inside my head, "I simply love you for it."
So still I am fighting here. In my beloved city. The City of Joy. Kolkata. Morning sweats, abnormal humidity, endless traffic, increasing pollution, "Manchi na ... Manbo na" marches. I am loving it. For even the polluted air is still pregnant with the magical words of that bearded man. It will be, forever. Amen!
Originally published in Asian Cha, November 2012